Role Models for Girls on TV
By Tracey Dowdy
TV and streaming services have come a long way in presenting programming for girls that isn’t solely focused on fashion and homemaking. While it’s important to show girls that exploring their creativity through fashion or being a mother and homemaker is no less worthy or empowering than being a lawyer or a doctor, for too long, those were about the only examples presented in media.
If you’re looking for programming with strong role models of girls and women challenging stereotypes and achieving their dreams, these shows are a great place to start.
Nella the Princess Knight turns the stereotypical damsel in distress on its head by having the princess solve her problems and rescue herself, plus, Nella herself is mixed race instead of the usual fair-haired maiden we usually see. Each episode begins with Nella as a princess, but as problems arise, Nella transforms into a knight and works together with her friends to find a solution. The show has an equally resourceful and positive role model in Sir Garrett, one of Nella’s friends. The stories are creative, and engaging using music, magic, and lots of imagination. (Ages 3+/Nickelodeon)
Dino Dana focuses on the adventures of a 9-year old girl who is given a Dino Field Guide, which not only teaches her about dinosaurs but gives her the ability to imagine dinosaurs into real life. The show combines live-action with CGI animation to bring the dinosaurs to life. Kids will learn the dinosaurs’ names, appearance, eating habits, defense mechanisms, plus see Dana use problem-solving skills to overcome the different situations she finds herself in. Dana’s family is blended and multicultural, and in one episode she says to her sister Saara, “Remember how my mom fell in love with your dad, and now we’re a family even though we look different?” (Ages 4+/Amazon Prime)
Project Mc2 brings together McKeyla, Adrienne, Bryden, and Camryn, four smart and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)-skilled girls who have been recruited to join the spy organization, NOV8. The show promotes the premise that “Smart is the new cool,” includes projects that parents can do at home with their children. The cast is diverse, and the girls work together to save the world. (Ages 7+/Netflix)
When Calls the Heart is a faith-based drama series inspired by the Hallmark TV movie which itself is based on books by Janette Oke. The story focuses on Elizabeth Thatcher, a young school teacher from a wealthy family who migrates from the big city to teach school in a small coal mining town in western Canada. Elizabeth demonstrates courage, kindness, and perseverance through the hardships of frontier life, making her an excellent role model for girls. In addition, many of the other recurring characters are females, who face their struggles with determination and a positive attitude. (Ages 7+/Hallmark Channel)
A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the series of books of the same name, tells the tale of the Baudelaire children, whose life of privilege ends when their parents die in a mysterious fire. The children are sent to live with their closest living relative, the devious Count Olaf, who is clearly after their fortune. Over the series, the children, led by oldest sister Violet, thwart Olaf’s plans and work together to find their parents and persevere against the odds. Both the setting and the plot to many of the episodes are dark, so parents should be wary before allowing sensitive or young children to watch. (Ages 10+/Netflix)
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt focuses on a woman, who along with three other women, is rescued from an underground bunker after 15 years as captives of a cult leader who told them that the world had ended. That’s a pretty heavy premise for a comedy, but Kimmy’s persistent cheer, character, and self-reliance, are reflected in her actions as she adapts to her new life in New York City. Parents should note there is some language and mild sexuality, so this is one for older kids. (Ages 12+/Netflix)
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.